Posts Tagged ‘Russian’

Beer Review: Starij Melnik Gold

1 April, 2010

BAD news for fans of high-brow British and European ale. I’ve got my hands on another obscure Russian lager. Still, that’s good news for fans of unusual East-European beers. It’s also a chance to re-try something I haven’t had since my gap-year travels when it looked like this…

Old Starij Melnik bottle in Siberia, Russia

From local East-European wonderland, Russkij Bazar, here is a bottle of what I think is called Starij Melnik Gold. Self-evidently priced at £1.65 pence.

Starij Melnik Gold bottle

First impressions are of how different it looks to the one I had in Siberia. If you know the difference between the Gold I have here and the other one I tried, do please leave a message in the comments section at the end of this post.

Second impressions are that they’ve put effort into it. Have a look at these grips. Should your bottle be wet, or your drunkenness highly advanced, it won’t slip from your grasp as easily.

Starij Melnik Gold bottle grips

The side-effect is that the back label small-print has been squished into a crowded neck-label.

Starij Melnik Gold  left neck labelStarij Melnik Gold middle neck labelStarij Melnik Gold right neck label

After pouring over it with an electron microscope, I’ve been able to glean some facts. The ingredients are “water, barley malt, glucose syrup with malt sugar (wheat, maize), hops” and it is “pasturized”. It has an alcoholic volume of 5.2%. And, unhelpfully, it has the web-address of www.monolith-gruppe.eu. Unhelpful because it’s no longer obvious where Starij Melnik Gold comes from. The Italian language section mentions a Moscow based Efes Moscow Brewery, but the word “imported” is proving elusive. Leave a comment if you can shed some light on this mystery.

Starij Melnik Gold front label

Translators, do you thing in the comments section! As labels go, this one is basic. The imitation stamp in the corner says something about tradition. And I’m not entirely sure that the name translation on the label is correct. On the neck label, it translates the name as Starij Melnik Gold. But the first word, I’m nearly fairly sure, it more like “Smarij”, not “Starij”. Translators, what is going on here?

And because that’s all I can translate, it’s the end the boring description bit. What does Starij Melnik Gold taste like? How does it compare to other lagery beers and should you bother buying it? Let’s twist open the bottle top and write some opinionated hyperbole.

In a pint glass, this fridge cooled bottle of Starij Melnik Gold looks much like any other lager. The long neck of the bottle makes it almost impossible to pour without glugging, so you end up with a head that somehow completely fills but doesn’t overflow a pint glass. Now that’s foresight.

The liquid itself is yellow and fizzy. The head is white. Even a few minutes after pouring, it’s still topped by a thick layer of foam. Not bad at all.

Have you ever sniffed a cold glass of any mainstream lager? Then you’ll know what to expect from the smell. An unremarkable blend of malted barley.

What does Starij Melnik Gold taste like? Two easy gulps in prove it to be a perfectly acceptable pilsner style lager. First impressions are that it’s going to be unremarkable, but hard to fault.

At least at fridge temperature, there’s no flavour and virtually no taste whatsoever. Taking a few more gulps to investigate, reveals only the most delicate of lagery tastes. In a very smooth introduction, your tongue will barely notice the savoury, bittersweet finish. I’m struggling to taste anything at all here.

What am I enjoying about Starij Melnik Gold? It is ridiculously easy to drink. There is nothing to deter even the most timid drinker. It’s very clean and refreshing. That means it would probably go well with a hot curry. Just make sure your Starij Melnik Gold is well chilled.

What aren’t I enjoying about Starij Melnik Gold? In the taste department, it’s in the same league as Tesco Value Lager. Even most mainstream lagers manage a hint of hoppiness or a taste of malted barley. This has almost no identifiable taste. The lightness and drinkability come at the cost of making it watery. The quibbles are that the labels aren’t at all clear, it’s expensive and a little gassy.

How can I sum up Starij Melnik Gold? If you want a bottle of water but only have this, then don’t worry. Starij Melnik Gold will do fine. It’ll also go down well with spicy food. If you actually want to taste something however, then buy almost anything else.

Rating: 2.7

Have you tried Starij Melnik Gold? What did you think? Can you translate anything or resolve the mystery surrounding this bottle? Then leave a comment below. Every one of which I read and will bear in mind next time I buy a bottle of Russian beer.

Beer Review: Ochakovo Zhigulovskoye

30 August, 2008

YESTERDAY’S Baltika 3 was all very good. But it wasn’t real Russian. That slick and professional little bottle was produced by our very own Scottish & Newcastle after all. What I needed was a real Russian bottle of beer. And that’s what the Russian shop Kalinka from Queensway, west London sold me for £1.80 pence. Here is a bottle of Zhigulovskoye from the Ochakovo Brewery in Moscow.

You don’t need me to tell you that this isn’t a classily presented product. The dull brown bottle and cheaply printed labels give that away. On a western beer, that would be grounds to accuse it of being cheap and shabby. But this is Russian. And that makes it quirky, interesting and baffling.

Lets start with the neck label.

Ochakovo Zhigulovskoye neck label

It has what I think is the name and logo of the brewer at the top. With what looks like barley either side of it. The equally plain name of the beer has a couple of symbols either side that are too small to read. Under that are a couple of words to do with beer. Maybe it says “Lager Beer”? Translators, get on it and leave a comment at the end of the post. Under that is what must be the alcoholic volume. Which is a surprisingly low 4%.

The main front label is just as bad. Or should that be quaint? And badly stuck on too. All the labels seem to be coming unstuck by the perspiration on the outside of this chilled bottle.

Ochakovo Zhigulovskoye front label

Inside the egg-shaped roundel is a crest made up of barley, hops and a shield with a tankard of frothing beer. The medals from the neck label are here, and bigger, but I can’t make any sense of them. In fact, I can’t make any sense of any of the other words on this label. Translators, do please leave a message at the end of this post translating what it says!

Sadly, my utter lack of foreign language skills fails me again. This time it’s on the back label. And it fails me in a big way. I can’t understand anything on there.

Ochakovo Zhigulovskoye back label

All I can understand from this label are that it’s a 0.5 litre bottle. That the web address is www.ochakovo.ru where the English language version didn’t work. And that it contains the word for Moscow. So that’s probably where it’s from.

Fortunately, clueless foreigners like me have been given some invaluable clues by the importer. Clues in the form of this little white label.

importers little white label

It’s hard to read, but if it wasn’t for this, I’d be stuck. It has, written in English, the name of the beer and the brewery. It confirms that it’s from Moscow, Russia. That it’s 500 millilitres and has a volume of 4%. And what’s more, it has a tiny description of the beer and ingredients. They describe it as coming from “purest water, barley malt, barley, selected hops and no additives”. I wander if Pierhead Purchasing Ltd import any other obscure Russian beers into the UK? I hope so.

With nothing else to read. Or at least nothing I can understand, its time to open this bottle and sample the contents within. Will it be better than Baltika? Probably not. But there’s only one way to find out.

Once poured, you get a big frothy head that rapidly subsides. After a couple of minutes, it’s retreated to be a consistent layer of creamy froth. Predictably, the colour is yellow. But not as pale as some.

The smell is surprisingly strongly of barley. And a little stronger than you expect it to be. You can tell its part of that familiar lagery blend, of smells. But that smell is strong and different. I wander how it will taste?

A couple of gulps in and it’s not as bad as I predicted. Like Baltika 3, it doesn’t seem to have much, if any flavour. But it leaves you with a light aftertaste. Like the smell, that aftertaste seems less about hops, and more about the barley. Although it’s a struggle to make even that out. What you’ll notice most is that lager bite and lingering bitterness. The bite hits you quite hard. And the lingering bitterness isn’t hiding from view either. But the whole thing is well balanced enough to be drinkable.

What is there to like about Zhigulovskoye? A respectable list of things. It’s crisp and refreshing. At least it is if you serve it chilled and don’t drink too much of the stuff. It’s smooth. It has a taste. And sometimes inspite of itself, it’s easy to drink.

As you’ve probably guessed, there are downsides to Zhigulovskoye. I’m about half-way through the bottle now, and that bite and bitter aftertaste are wearing thin. Let’s be honest, I can barely stand it. Lager aficionados will love it, but not me. And not people looking for a truly accessible drink or full-bodied ale. Apart from that taste, it’s a little gassy. And weak, too.

So where does all this leave Zhigulovskoye? Well, it’s a lager with a wheaty bite and bitter aftertaste. It’s not as high-quality as the smooth Baltika 3. But it’s not bad as lagers go. By all means, track it down if you like unusual bottled lagers. As for me, I’ll be enjoying something with flavour.

Rating: 2.75

Have you tried Ochakovo Brewery Zhigulovskoye? What did you think of it? What reputation does it have in Russia? And can you translate anything?

Leave your corrections, opinions, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the little boxes below.

Beer Review: Baltika 3

29 August, 2008

DURING my gap-year, I had much fun trying some of Russia’s beers. So I was delighted to discover a Russian shop called Kalinka in Queensway, west London. A quick visit, and I left with a handful of unusual Eastern-European bottles. First of which is one I tried during my time in Saint Petersburg. That’s because this is Saint-Petersburg’s own Baltika. Baltika 3 in fact.

Baltika is the drink of choice in Saint Petersburg. I counted about ten varieties of the stuff, and the shop shelves are filled with them. Here’s a picture of a cooler cabinet I snapped in a small supermarket in the Russian city.

Shop Shelf in Saint Petersburg

Shop Shelf in Saint Petersburg

With so many to choose from, I opted for Baltika 7. I can’t remember why. Probably because it looked strongest. Here’s what the genuine bottle of Baltika looked like.

Russian Baltika 7

Russian Baltika 7

My understanding is that Baltika is the Tsingtao or Guinness of Russian beer brands. You might have seen their poster advertising last year or even seen them for sale in Tesco or other mainstream UK shops. Baltika came to be after the collapse of the USSR, and so far looks to be Russia’s only beer making a push for international distribution. Lets hope its not the last. We might wring our hands at their government, but the quirkiness of Russian products is awesome.

Back to the beer, and let’s start with the neck label. And a very functional label it is too. The main purpose being to separate it from all the other numbers in Baltika’s extensive range.

Baltika 3 neck label

The main front label is good though.

Baltika 3 front label

The logo does a good job of looking well established. Even though the date on it is 1990. It also features hops and a crown. Why a crown for a republic I don’t know. Maybe a hint of the Tsarist past? And can anyone explain what the three wavey-lines logo means? Answers in the comments at the end of this post please.

Also on the front label roundel is the non-anglicised Baltika name. You’ve got to love Russian Cyrillic. So very nearly readable by anyone only who only knows English. For the curious, read this Wikipedia article on the Russian alphabet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_alphabet. If only to reassure yourself that it says what you think it does.

Also inside the roundel, they describe it as “Classic beer”. Whatever that is. And on the bottom border, the volume is given as 5.1%. Not strong, not weak and not conventional either.

Let’s see what the back label is hiding.

Baltika 3 back label

It’s good to see that they have English and Russian language descriptions. Although I’ll only be reading from one. This side, they call it a “Premium Beer”. In the description, we learn a great deal. For instance, that it’s the number one beer in Russia. That they sell it in over thirty countries. And that it’s won over thirty international and Russian awards. We also learn the Russian for “cheers”, which is “Na zdorovye”. That’s one to try if ever you visit or meet some Russians. But, if your attempts at speaking Russian are anything like mine, you’ll only receive a look of incomprehension at your failed attempt to talk.

Under the Russian language version, the small print begins. This little bottle is the common 330 millilitres. And at 5.1% volume, it has 1.7 UK units of alcohol. Then, there’s some bad news. It also contains barley and wheat. This is not the genuine article. It’s not been imported. This has the address of Scottish & Newcastle in Edinburgh. That makes this as Russian as tartan. Despite this immense handicap, S&N usually do a pretty good job, so this could still be good.

Ultimately, there’s only one way to find out. It’s time to open the bottle and see how it tastes. Should you buy it? Let’s find out.

It’s got a thick-ish creamy head. Which was a surprise. And it’s a pale yellow colour. Which wasn’t a surprise.

How does it smell? It smells faintly lagery. But better than most. You can just about make out a blend of barley and wheat. But not the same way as cheap big-name lagers do. I like it.

How does it taste? It tastes rich, smooth and with a lagery bitter bite and aftertaste. It doesn’t seem to have any flavour. But it does have a startlingly easy bite and bitter aftertaste. What you’ll notice most is that smoothness and soft lagery bite.

I hadn’t tried Baltika 3 before and I didn’t expect to like it. As it’s a take on lager, I certainly don’t love it. But as lagers go, I think it’s one of the better ones out there. For a start, it’s much easier to drink than lots of lagers. And that’s because it’s so smooth and the taste, that bite is so soft and well balanced. It’s not particularly gassy. And it scores marks for being distinctive.

There are downsides however. The aftertaste and character might be good, but it doesn’t seem to have any flavour. Almost none at all as far as I can tell. No doubt the lager fanatics out there will disagree. It’s still hard to find. And compared to everything else on the shop shelves of Britain, there are plenty of other bottles that are cheaper and have more flavour.

To sum up, Baltika 3 is an excellent lager. If you love lagers, you should try it. If you’re curious about Russian and Eastern-European beers, you’ll enjoy it.

If you only have lagers to choose from, this is one of the better ones. If you like full-bodied flavours and don’t like lagers however, you probably won’t like this beer so much. Overall, Baltika 3 does an excellent job of being a lager beer.

Rating: 3.65

Have you tried Baltika 3 or any other Baltika or Russian beers?

If so, do please leave your corrections, opinions, translations, thoughts, requests and recommendations in the comments boxes below.


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